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Berkeley Council Raises Fees, Passes on Cell Phone Towers

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday January 15, 2009 - 07:18:00 PM

The Berkeley City Council (finally) disposed of one cell-phone-antenna tower facility request but punted on the other on Tuesday night. The two appeals have been on the council agenda for several straight meetings now. 

On a 4-0-2 vote (five votes needed for approval), the council rejected a motion by Councilmember Max Anderson to grant a council hearing in a citizen appeal from Zoning Adjustments Board (ZAB) approval of a T-Mobil wireless facility at 1725 University Ave. (Moore, Anderson, Wengraf, Worthington yes; Capitelli, Bates abstained; Maio recused; Arreguin voluntarily absenting himself; Wozniak absent).  

Because this is the third meeting in which the appeal from ZAB was discussed by the council and no action was taken, the ZAB approval automatically goes into effect. 

Citizen opponents of the T-Mobile facility later criticized Mayor Tom Bates of “voting whichever way makes him look good” on the issue. On Dec. 18, Bates voted in favor of holding a council hearing on the appeal, which the council failed to approve, but reversed himself on Tuesday night by abstaining, killing the chance to get the necessary five votes to approve a council hearing.  

After casting his abstention, Bates could be heard telling councilmembers on the dais “we could hold a public hearing, but I don’t think it would do any good.” 

In earlier action on a citizen appeal from ZAB approval of a Verizon cell-phone antennae facility at 1540 Shattuck Ave., no councilmember offered a motion, so the matter was continued until the next meeting. The council held a public hearing on the appeal last December and has until the Feb. 10 council meeting to make a decision.  

That date is past the Jan. 7 deadline for council action on the appeal set in a federal lawsuit stipulated agreement between Verizon and the City of Berkeley. That agreement includes a provision that the council's failure to act by Jan. 7 is an admission of a failure to act on the permit “within a reasonable period of time,” a violation of the federal Telecommunications Act, and allows Verizon to go back into federal court to win an immediate judgment against the city.  

Verizon counsel Paul Albritton said that “13 attorneys” at Verizon will be evaluating the company's options following the council’s inaction, and would not speculate on whether the company would go back to federal court or wait until after the Feb. 10 meeting. 

The council is scheduled to discuss proposed revisions to Berkeley’s Wireless Telecommunications ordinance on March 10. Earlier this month, the Planning Commission passed the revisions on to the council with no recommendation. 


Other action 

Facing tightening economic times, the City Council also voted Tuesday to substantially increase Berkeley marina and parks and recreation program and facility fees Tuesday night, but modified a staff proposal to increase such fees for existing nonprofit city facilities renters. 

Council approved a virtual 20 percent across-the-board fee increase for Nature Center/Adventure Playground programs at the marina, with registration for 24 Animal Programs education classes jumping from $154 to $185, for example, and four sailboat classes rising from $194 to $233. Fees to launch and recover boats at the Berkeley Marina Small Boat Launch Ramp will rise from $5 to $10. 

City staff had proposed rental rate increases for various city recreation facilities of as high as 48 percent, but after some residents complained that the stiff hikes might mean that some existing long-term recreation facilities renters might have to drop their rentals altogether, jeopardizing their programs and costing the city rent money, Councilmember Laurie Capitelli moved to limit the increase to existing nonprofit renters to not more than 20 percent. Council asked staff to come back later in the year for recommendations on further rental fee raises for non-Berkeley residents.